Superb Soups

The chicken soup comfort food culture

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When the first Chicken Soup for the Soul came out two decades ago, I didn’t buy a copy. It’s been out in the market for twenty years, I still haven’t bought a copy. There appear to be free copies in PDF format floating around, I never downloaded a copy. I was never into motivational anything. That’s the bottom line. I’m already perpetually motivated and driven.

But that’s not the only reason.

Chicken Soup for the Soul? Two things. “Soul”, in that context, evokes something religious. So, scram. Chicken soup? My childhood memories of chicken soup are packs of Royco poured into boiling water. The result is a soup with noodles and specks of solids that tasted and smelled heavily of MSG. Wait, was that the chicken? I never brought a bowl of Royco chicken noodle soup to a lab to have it tested. You know, to find out if the teeny lumps were, in fact, chicken.

I was a child. I did say childhood memories, right? And my mother would feed me that stuff every time I was sick. Looking back, I might have gotten well sooner if I had been fed better. But that Royco stuff? I’m sure it prolonged every illness.

In short, say “chicken soup” and I’ll never associate it with healing nor comfort. The association is an alien concept to me because of Royco. It is also a culture thing. This is Asia where the sick is fed with lugaw (congee). I’d understand it if anyone said lugaw with chicken is comfort food. But chicken soup? No, not me.

I thought about all that as I was making a noodle soup today. Both my daughters are sick, Sam is in the condo but Alex is home with us. I do understand that food, like any placebo, can boost the motivation to feel better so when Alex asked me to make a soup, I did. What soup? Not chicken soup, definitely. Even my kids don’t think of chicken soup and comfort food as naturally belonging in the same universe.

When I asked Alex what soup she wanted, she said noodle soup. You know, Chinese style, what we call mami in the Philippines. For sure, I didn’t give her anything that came straight out of a pack. I asked Speedy to buy soup bones (he came home with pork ribs — wonderful!), I roasted then simmered the bones to make a tasty and nutritious broth, then I shredded the generous amount of meat that fell off the bones. Then, I made the noodle soup. With the broth, the meat, vegetables and noodles.

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